First Responders Suicide Deterrence Task Force finalizes recommendations and annual report

The Florida First Responders Suicide Deterrence Task Force — with representatives from five first responder organizations, behavioral health professionals and representatives from the Statewide Office for Suicide Prevention (SOSP) and Florida Division of Emergency Management — discussed action items and recommendations for stakeholders at its June meeting. The task force also made final preparations for the release of its annual report this month. 

 

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The task force, first enacted in July 2020, is charged with creating recommendations to reduce incidences of suicide or attempted suicide among first responders in the state. Members compile research findings and recommendations to be released in an annual report every July until 2023. 

Behavioral health has come to the forefront of health policy during the pandemic. Specifically, health care leaders are focusing on the often underreported emotional strain that public service professionals endure. A feature from Vox highlighted the pandemic’s toll on physician mental health and a number of suicide instances, noting that some doctors refuse to seek behavioral care for fear of losing their jobs or medical licenses. The same issue also applies to first responders. During the task force meeting, Matt Walsh, assistant special-agent-in-charge of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Jacksonville Regional Operations Center, offered insight on their reluctance to seek care. 

“They do not want to do that for fear of losing their job, losing their gun. They would rather hurt in silence, rather than speak up and look for health. The only way to get cops to do this is if there are mandatory requirements, mandatory training…that’s the only way to get rid of the stigma.” 

To address these issues,  task force members spent the majority of the meeting reviewing their recommendations directly to state departments, structured under the 2020-2023 Florida Suicide Prevention Interagency Action Plan

One recommendation called for the reevaluation and expansion of professions classified as first responders to include telehealth providers and crime scene investigators. These professions do not qualify for certain programs–such as a law providing compensation for first responders with PTSD–since they do not fall under the current classification, despite experiencing similar mental and emotional crises as others in the profession.

Other recommendations focused on improving the awareness and use of suicide prevention resources. Task force members suggested placing the national suicide prevention hotline on the backs of first responder ID cards — a tactic similarly applied to student IDs. 

Deborah Harris, senior director of gateway services at the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, pushed to make resources such as the Florida Heroes Line more visible on first responder sites, specifically so that responders in crisis can easily access them. 

“Other [resource centers] have their own ways of getting their information out. I’ve come up against some roadblocks in helping folks know the difference between having it in something like a database warehouse, verses on your website, and the value of having both.”

Prior to its next meeting, task force members were encouraged to look over the recommendations and focus on priorities relating to their respective organizations. The task force will also host representatives from the Yellow Rose Campaign and the Florida Violent Death Reporting System at its next few meetings. The task force will hear presentations from these organizations in the hopes of partnering or providing support for them in the future. 

The Yellow Rose Campaign, started by Michigan Fire Chief Greg Flynn in 2018, advocates for an open-minded perspective towards behavioral health in first responder settings. The campaign has since become a statewide effort in Michigan and New Mexico, with potential plans to expand to Florida. 

The Florida Violent Death Reporting System (FVDRS) collects data from violent deaths, including suicide, to better understand the demographics and life circumstances surrounding these instances. The organization currently operates on a grant and is seeking long term funding. FVDRS is a subset of the National Violent Death Reporting System, currently operating in a handful of state counties and looking to expand statewide. 

The task force’s next meeting is July 27 at 2 p.m. Meetings are open to the public at https://thefloridachannel.org/